LONDON — Britain’s police watchdog on Wednesday cleared the country’s former top officer of misconduct over an investigation by his force into phone hacking at the News of the World tabloid.
Paul Stephenson quit as head of London’s Metropolitan Police last month amid evidence of the force’s links to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, which owned the now-defunct News of the World (NotW).
The force had long faced criticism for its initial 2006 investigation into phone hacking but came under increasing pressure when the scandal escalated and over fresh claims it had a cosy relationship with Murdoch’s businesses.
Stephenson, one of his deputies John Yates — who also quit last month amid the scandal — and two other ex-senior officers were referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
The watchdog on Wednesday cleared the four officers of misconduct over phone hacking and said its investigation into the matter would be dropped.
But it said it would probe separate allegations that ex-assistant commissioner Yates had helped the daughter of Neil Wallis, a former NotW executive, to obtain a job with the London force.
In a statement, Stephenson said the outcome of the investigation was “as I would have expected it to be”, adding: “I regret resources have had to be expended on this matter.”
He had long been under pressure but the trigger for his July 17 resignation was the revelation that the London force hired Wallis as a public relations consultant.
Stephenson also faced criticism for his decision to accept a break at a spa and health farm from a firm where Wallis worked, but the IPCC said this did not come under its remit.
On the matter of phone hacking, the IPCC was asked to look into Stephenson because of his ultimate responsibility for Yates, who took the decision in 2009 not to revive the police probe. But it said this did not amount to misconduct.
“I do not think he committed a misconduct offence because one of his officers may have carried out a poor investigation,” said IPCC deputy chair Deborah Glass.
With regard to Yates, the watchdog said he had already faced adequate scrutiny over his failure to reopen the probe, a decision he has publicly regretted.
“Considering that he has been questioned about his involvement in phone hacking over many hours in six separate parliamentary sessions, it is difficult to see what further investigation would achieve,” said Glass.
Yates said that he was pleased about the IPCC decision but expressed disappointment about the watchdog’s probe into the hiring of Wallis’ daughter.
“I strongly deny any wrongdoing and I am completely confident that I will be exonerated,” he said.
After a lull, the hacking scandal came back to life Tuesday when lawmakers released a letter in which a former reporter — jailed for hacking in 2007 — claimed that the practice was “widely discussed” among senior staff at the paper.